The only reason I have come to Rabangla is to do a hike to Maenam Hill. My research tells me that the hike up will take 4 hours. It’s another 2 hours to get down. I reach Rabangla late afternoon.
I hike up to the forest check post and enquire.
‘You will have to take a guide,’ the guy tells me. ‘There are many paths in the forest. Even we get lost sometimes.’
‘How much is a guide?’
It is expensive for me but perhaps works out well for groups. I am indecisive. I head to the temple on top of the hill, across the road from the forest check post. I can sense that the mountains are everywhere but the skies are foggy. I can’t see much. A chill wind is blowing constantly.
When I return to the village, it is drizzling. School children are returning home. I have a really late lunch because I didn’t have a chance for eat anything on the way to Rabangla.
I order vegetable thukpa. It is hotter than I expected. There is a generous addition of potatoes and peas. Previously I have seen only shredded cabbages, carrots and onions. Thukpa may be a common affair in these mountainous regions but every place does it differently. I quite like today’s thukpa.
Rabangla has some decent places to stay but I am deliberately staying in an old wooden building just for the feel of it. My room is just a box. It is on the first floor accessed by a creaking wooden stairway. The flooring in the room is wooden but carpetted. The walls are wooden panels. You can see light filtering from adjacent rooms. You can hear the whispers of neighbours. It feels like I am in the 19th century before the arrival of modern day comforts. It feels like I am one of those early mountain explorers who must have stayed in exactly a place as this a century ago.
Though I like the cramped room for its period atmosphere, there is no comfort in my stay here. There is no power. The toilet is down the cold corridor and it stinks. There is no water in the evening. A bucket of water is given to me upon request. Beyond the toilet is a balcony with a view of the mountains and their pristine forests.
I have dinner at a restaurant named Kookie. After many days of thukpas and fried rice, I am finally able to find rice and daal. The rice is boiled well and the daal is tasty. I relish it fully. The service is impeccable.
‘How long have you been here?’ I ask the manager.
‘This opened only 2 months back. There used to be another restaurant. We closed that and opened this. In our language, we call this reincarnation.’
It is common for new restaurants to exhibit high levels of service. I hope they maintain this service in the months and years to come.
I head back to my dingy room that I like, make my bed under torchlight, set the alarm for half past four and hit the pillow.
When the alarm rings, I consider how pointless it would be to climb up the hill for four hours and then climb down another 2 to 3 hours. There is a good chance I will get lost if I don’t take a guide. If that happens, I would hate to stay in this room for another night. By such reasoning in half sleep, I decide to skip the hike to Maenam Hill. I prefer a quiet day at Rabangla doing nothing.
So I wake up at half six and do everything leisurely. I head back to the monastery on the hill to witness a stunning line of snow clad peaks. The view is clear this morning.
‘Is that Kanchendzonga?’ I ask a worker passing by.
‘Not sure. It is somewhere there, perhaps farther beyond the clouds,’ he replies. The fact is only some of the peaks are visible. Others are still under clouds. This may the Kanchendzonga Range but the exact peak may be farther.
The rugged slopes catch the morning light and drop their shadows as they see fit. The clouds pass by slowly as if they are having a darshan of each peak. There is no hurry in their journey and often they seem to stand still. Below these high slopes, the blue hills reflect the colour of the sky. Nearer are the greener hills of forest cover. The hills fold, drop and turn as they descend into the valleys below. Human settlements dot the wide landscape here and there. From the North East, Maenam Hill mocks at my laziness.